Photo via Reuters
To say this season was a roller coaster for Arsenal is an understatement. They fired their manager in the middle of the season, they beat the best clubs and lost to some of the worst and had long, winless and unbeaten streaks. Here is a look at the club’s campaign of the 2019-20 Premier League season.
Unai Emery returned to manage the club after an epic collapse last season to miss the Champions League. The season started off promising with wins over Newcastle United and Burnley. Aside from a 3-1 loss to Liverpool, they remained unbeaten through early October as they tied with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur while defeating Bournemouth and Aston Villa.
October 6 would be the last win the club would obtain in the Premier League until December 9 with constant draws to inferior opponents such as Norwich City, Southampton and Crystal Palace. They even lost to Brighton & Hove Albion and Sheffield United during this stretch. On November 29, 2019, Arsenal sacked Emery after a 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League.
Freddie Ljungberg took over on an interim basis the next few weeks as the club looked for a permanent replacement. His tenure saw a draws against Norwich City and Everton, losses to Brighton and Manchester City and one win over West Ham United.
On December 20, former Arsenal midfielder and Man City assistant manager Mikel Arteta was appointed to be the permanent manager. After a draw against Bournemouth and a loss to Chelsea, progress would start to show with a 2-0 victory over Man U on New Year’s Day. Arsenal would draw against every Premier League opponent until February 16 where they had an impressive 4-0 victory over Newcastle. Arsenal would defeat Everton and West Ham before COVID-19 suspended play for three months.
Arsenal would play nine matches in the Premier League during “Project Restart,” and the roller coaster season would only continue. They started off with embarrassing losses to Man City and Brighton. They would rip off three straight wins over Southampton, Norwich and Wolverhampton. The next three matches saw them draw with Leicester City, lose to Tottenham and shockingly defeat Liverpool. They finished the season in typical Arsenal fashion by losing to Aston Villa and beating Watford. Arsenal finished the season eighth, below any European-qualification position.
This was an exhausting season for Arsenal fans but from what I saw during “Project Restart” under Arteta, I have a lot of confidence that this club is moving in the right direction.
During the last two seasons under legendary manager Arsene Wenger and the tenure of Unai Emery, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of passion, urgency and effort the club put in. They seemed to always go through the motions and not create anything exciting like the best clubs do. Arsenal constantly gave up goals they shouldn’t have, in part due to a lack of effort.
Under Arteta, I saw more passion and effort from the players which was a welcome sight for the fanbase. Players fought hard to win matches, which was highlighted in their victory over Liverpool. Liverpool won the shot battle over Arsenal 23-3 but Arsenal was aggressive and fought to convert every chance possible, which they did.
Another promising aspect of the club this season was the emergence of youth. 18-year old winger Bukayo Saka often was a stand-out player during matches as he would create many chances and make the attack flow well. 23-year old leftback Kieran Tierney stood out for Arsenal during the restart as he would make clutch defensive plays and help jumpstart their attacks. For his stellar performances, he won club player of the month in June. Despite suffering a season-ending injury in June, 19-year old winger Gabriel Martinelli signed a four-year deal with the club. He looks promising as a dangerous attacker and future playmaker.
Arteta left his mark on veterans of the club. Early in the season, midfielder Granit Xhaka was booed by Arsenal supporters when Emery was still club manager. Under Arteta, Xhaka went through a renaissance as he became much more of a playmaker at midfield for a club that was lacking creativity and stability. This was highlighted in the match late in the season against Aston Villa where the difference in attack quality between the half Xhaka played vs the one he didn’t was night and day.
As for club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he once again had a successful season, scoring 22 league goals to follow up his Golden Boot performance in the 2018-19 season. He seemed energized by Arteta’s playstyle and looked like he was having fun playing for Arsenal. This is important because Aubameyang’s contract expires next season and he has thought of leaving. Hopefully for Arsenal fans, Arteta can convince Aubameyang to stay.
Arsenal looks to have a bright future with the right leader and a surge of productive youth players. Arsenal is looking to potentially sign Athletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey and former Liverpool winger Phillipe Coutinho. The bad news is that Arteta may have a minimal transfer budget to work with. The good news is that regardless if Arsenal can sign any players, Arteta has proven to make the most of the talent he has.
Arsenal will face Chelsea on Saturday in the FA Cup Final. A win would be huge for the club to inject confidence into the club, possibly open more money from the owners and qualify Arsenal for the Europa League.